“One week after the United States unleashed its military campaign to drive Saddam Hussein from power,” the New York Times reported in a front-page story last Thursday,
“the war has become a tough fight. The air campaign that the Pentagon promised would ‘shock and awe’ Saddam Hussein’s government appears to have done neither. Mr. Hussein has not lost his grip on power and the Iraqi military’s command and control system is still intact.”
(“Allies Adapt to Setbacks” by Michael R. Gordon, New York Times, March 27, 2003)
Or is it for real—that the Bush administration, the Defense Department and the intelligence community have blown it, committing this country to an open-ended war in a strange and distant country where we really have no business against an enemy far more able and determined than we thought?
My guess (it’s not really a guess but an analysis) is the latter—U.S. troops in Iraq, while far from facing defeat or disaster, are not enjoying the “cakewalk” to Baghdad that neo-conservative Likudnik Ken Adelman predicted more than a year ago. The Iraqis are not collapsing “at the first whiff of gunpowder,” as neo-conservative Likudnik Richard Perle boasted last summer. The Iraqi people apparently do not “view us as their hoped-for liberator,” as neo-conservative Likudnik Paul Wolfowitz claimed only a week before the war started.
The Times is not alone in warning of a far tougher war than the administration’s hawks predicted or than most Americans wanted. The Washington Post the same day reported on its front page that “some senior U.S. military officers” (soldiers, not armchair chicken hawks like the Likudniks) “are now convinced the war is likely to last for months and will require considerably more combat power than is now on hand there and in Kuwait.”
The Likudniks don’t like this one little bit. Bill Kristol, editor of the chief Likudnik organ in the United States, the Weekly Standard, whines that the Post article “comes close to being disgraceful.” No doubt it’s also “anti-Semitic,” like every other criticism the neo-cons encounter.
But the fact is that controlling 40 percent of Iraqi territory and 95 percent of Iraqi airspace doesn’t help that much. The real battle will be for Baghdad, and though U.S. troops are within 50 miles of the city, it’s defended by Hussein’s Republican Guard. Under attack, the Guard can withdraw into the city and wage urban warfare against our troops. The casualties could multiply; the conflict could indeed take months.
Of course the Likudniks don’t care about American casualties very much. As neo-conservative Likudnik Michael Ledeen, who advocates a U.S. war against virtually every Arab country in the Middle East, told the Post this weekend, “I think the level of casualties is secondary.”
Right; the point is to wipe out Israel’s enemies. Who cares how many dead Americans it takes?
Yet aside from the propaganda, disinformation and outright lies we were told about this war, many may also have swallowed a good many more or less typically American misconceptions about societies like that of Iraq and about human nature itself.
Misconception No. 1 is that Hussein’s regime is based entirely on fear—of him and his secret police—and that once the G.I.’s toss out the lollipops to the natives, the people would revolt and democracy would reign. The truth is that Hussein may well enjoy more popular support than we imagined, that lots of Iraqis are less afraid of him than of other Iraqis of different tribal, ethnic or religious persuasions getting power, and that most people will fight an invasion by a foreign power whom they see as an aggressor. Iraq today is simply not France of 1944.
Misconception No. 2 is that American military and communications technology will win the war easily. Eventually they probably will, but centuries ago Niccolo Machiavelli warned that the new-fangled artillery all the kings of Europe were drooling over would not by itself in the long run protect them. Fancy new technologies, this most cynical of political thinkers knew, were never adequate substitutes for the real roots of victory and national survival: discipline, loyalty, courage.
Americans, and especially those doing the real fighting, still have plenty of those virtues, even if their leaders could use a good dose.
But the Iraqis seem to have their own share as well, which is the main reason this war has suddenly become a “tough fight” and may get tougher still before it’s over.
If we’re going to win the victory our troops deserve, we need not only those virtues ourselves but to rid our minds of a good many lies and illusions that helped get into this war in the first place.